Ukraine Conflict Update – 19 April
Military and hard security developments
- Over the weekend Russian military operations in the Donbas continued to step up, with President Volodymyr Zelensky declaring on 19 April that Russia has now launched its offensive to take the Donbas. Artillery and air strikes have indeed increased significantly in the region in recent days, with Russian operations taking some ground around the Severodonestsk salient, including the town of Kreminna and west of Izyum. However, it remains our assessment that the main Russian ground offensive hasn’t yet begun, with the focus of Russian forces over the coming 24-48 hours likely aimed at securing more advantageous positions from which to attack on a larger front. Nevertheless, the weather forecast for the week ahead has steady rain across Eastern Ukraine, which will further degrade Russian ability to operate off roads, which could slow the offensive. Russian forces across the Dnieper are being deployed to prevent Ukrainian push on Kherson. There are 22 BTG sitting off Kyiv, they are there for reason, so the threat to Kyiv has not gone, the mayor of Kyiv has said , don’t come back.
- President Zalensky announced that Russian attacks have started across the whole front on what is now a War of Liberation against NATO not Ukraine, which of course reduces an embarrassment if Russia loses. This stage of the conflict is expected to last three weeks with results becoming clearer in two weeks. It is not inevitable that Russia will prevail.
- Russia has made a number of high ranking house arrests including ‘The Grey Cardinal,’ a key Russian figure. Escalation of the conflict following Russian failures are being monitored including nuclear and CBRN concerns.
- The May 9th Parades are still slated as some form of victory announcement with 11,000 troops rehearsing along with aircraft and equipment. The next stage will be either, peace, pressure to a long conflict or some form of peace agreement. There is a big group of Russian troops SE of Kherson where an opposed river crossing is possible, 2 pontoon bridges have been deployed for the possible river crossing, but heavily wooded areas are extra cover for the Ukrainian troops. There are 25 BTGs north of Izium out of 76 in total and 22 in Belarus.
- Lviv is being targeted as an area where NATO equipment is being stored, with claims that a US warehouse has been hit. The first Guards Tank Brigade is at Izium poised to strike towards Berinkov.
- The Netherlands is the latest country to agree to send armoured vehicles and other equipment.
- Taking the Luhansk Oblast is seen as key with attacks expected towards Bervinkov. There are three possible encirclements, one being total encirclement, which is the least likely given lack of troop numbers, partial encirclements or attacks on individual cities to seal them off.
- The sinking of the Markova has taken the heat of Odesa with naval groups withdrawing 200 kms. Ukraine has 4 brigades in Odesa and will be using these troops to threaten the Russians.
- Will the Russians use CBRN on the Mariupol defenders? Selective use remains possible but a risk, better as a threat.
- Will the US up their involvement? There are risks, NATO is doing more in Southern Ukraine, but not game changing. The Ukrainian Army is tired and struggling, guilt that more should have been done earlier. Will Russian be eventually be broken by being bled dry? When is enough, enough, will Russia be allowed a Pyric victory to walk away and then a new Cold War.
- Ukraine has pushed North East out of Kharkiv and is threatening Russian supply lines. This has allowed Ukraine to deploy some troops out of Odesa. Re-supply is now easier for the Russian troops as they are closer to home. Russian troops have learnt from their earlier Command and Control and comms issues as well as better logistics, but morale is low.
- Russia needs to retain control of the water supply to Crimea so the dams at Kherson are key to keep hold of, to make Crimea a long term viable part of Russia.
- The impending offensive in the Donbas follows Russia’s targeting of Lviv – located in western Ukraine – on 18 April. The long-range strikes left at least seven people dead and about a dozen critically injured after a missile reportedly hit a car service facility on the outskirts of the city. The targeting of Lviv also likely comes in response to a spate of attacks across the border in Russia, which Moscow has attributed to Ukraine, as well as the notable sinking of the Moskva warship last week. Moscow claimed to have struck a warehouse with US military aid inside, but the Pentagon stated on 18 April that there was no indication that US weapons had been destroyed in the attack on Lviv. The fact that Moscow claimed this, however, underlines the growing intention to target Western weapons shipments inside Ukraine, which will continue to present a threat of long-range cruise and ballistic missile attacks across the west of the country.
- On 19 April, Russian forces once again called on Ukrainian defenders in the Azovstal works in Mariupol to surrender by noon Moscow time (1000 GMT). The demand came after a similar ultimatum for forces to lay down their weapons by 0600 Moscow time on 17 April passed, with Ukrainian officials vowing their forces in the city will “fight to the end”. Defiance of this latest Russian ultimatum will risk Russian forces escalating weapons and tactics used to root the remaining defenders out, including strategic bombing or even use of CBRN weapons. Russian forces will want to gain complete control over the port as quickly as possible in order to free up more forces to assist in the impending ground offensive in Donetsk oblast further north.
Diplomatic and strategic developments
- On 18 April, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that his dialogue with President Vladimir Putin had stalled since the discovery of atrocities committed by Russian forces in northern Ukraine. Up until now, Macron had been one of the only Western leaders to remain in semi-regular contact with Putin, which had attracted criticism from countries including Poland, though Macron’s approach has garnered widespread support within France. Macron is currently fighting for re-election ahead of the second round of presidential elections on 24 April. Most notably, his opponent Marine Le Pen has stated that if she was elected she would seek a rapprochement between NATO and Russia after the end of the Ukraine war. Macron has stated that while he has not spoken to Putin since the discovery of the Bucha atrocities, he did not rule out talks in the future. Current polls indicate Macron’s lead over Le Pen is growing, however, should Le Pen be elected, France would likely become the leading voice within the EU for progress towards normalisation of relations with Russia, or at least some form of sanctions relief, following the war.
- On 19 April Greece seized a Russian oil tanker off the island of Evia in the Aegean in compliance with EU sanctions. Under the latest sanctions package passed by the bloc earlier this month, all Russian-flagged vessels are banned from the ports of the 27 member state, alongside bans on trucks and lorries travelling overland within the bloc. As such, Greece seized the Russian-flagged Pegas off the southwestern coast north of Evia, though the coast guard confirmed that its oil cargo had not been confiscated.
- The European Commission confirmed on 19 April that it would provide its opinion on Ukraine’s bid to gain candidate member status to the bloc in June. The Commission gave a membership questionnaire to Ukraine during Ursula von der Leyen’s visit to Kyiv earlier this month, with Kyiv reportedly providing its first round of answers a week later and continuing on the second round at present. According to unnamed officials cited in media reports, the Commission’s June announcement could pave the way for EU leaders to make a decision on whether to grant candidate status later that month. EU membership remains a key goal of the Zelensky administration and the wider Ukrainian public, with support for accession into the bloc at historic highs following the Russian invasion. However, the granting of candidate status to Ukraine would likely complicate attempts to reach a diplomatic post-war settlement, with Ukrainian neutrality at the heart of Russian demands. As such, the decision whether to grant candidate member status will remain a key event to watch in terms of the prospects for an end to the war over the medium term.
Economic/business environment developments
- Following a discussion by the EU leaders on potential new sanctions against Russian energy on 18 April, groups representing German employers and unions have issued a joint statement opposing a ban on gas imports from Russia, arguing that such a development would trigger mass factory closures and drive unemployment. The development underlines the enduring reticence from most European capitals to sanction Russian oil and gas, despite banning Russian coal imports – which will come into effect at the beginning of August. The development further underscores the fact that transition away from Russian gas in particular is set to be slow, though highly likely inevitable as the EU executive commission has outlined a plan to decrease the consumption of Russian gas by the end of 2022.
- Additionally, discussions concerning the sixth round of sanctions are reportedly underway, with unconfirmed reports suggesting that Russian oil is likely to be targeted. Negotiations about this new potential embargo will likely take place only after 24 April, the final round of the French elections, and are furthermore likely to also face resistance from EU member states such as Hungary, which is also highly dependent on Russian oil and has traditionally maintained more friendly relations with Moscow, as demonstrated by Orban’s agreement for Putin’s demands to payment for Russian gas in rubles.
- On 16 April, President Vladimir Putin signed into law a new amendment that will require all Russian companies to delist their overseas shares, in a move that will deal a significant blow to Russian billionaires. Numerous of Russia’s largest companies have been listed on the London, New York and Frankfurt stock exchanges, but the new law means from 26 April, trading in depositary receipts on foreign exchanges will be banned. Ultimately, the move underlines further efforts by the Kremlin to disconnect Russian assets from overseas markets, which will likely impact unsanctioned as well as sanctioned oligarchs, though it will have a limited impact on non-Russian business operations considering the scale of international sanctions already levied against going business in Russia.
- Considering the withdrawal of Russian troops from around Kyiv, the security situation in and around the capital has moderately improved as of 19 April. The H01/P01 and the E95 are the most viable routes from Kyiv. The E40 highway was declared ‘open’ for Kyiv-Lviv traffic last week by Ukrainian authorities, however, the E40 and the E373 remain heavily damaged from air/missile strikes and artillery shelling. Therefore, although travel on this route should be relatively safe, there may be delays as road-clearing continues. Air raid warnings across western Ukraine – notably in Khmelnytskyi, Zhytomyr, Rivne, Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv – highlight that the threat of air attacks remain high in western Ukraine, therefore, safety cannot be guaranteed on any westbound evacuation routes.
- While Ukraine’s State Emergency Services continue demining operations around Kyiv, the threat posed by mines and unexploded ordnance remains high across Kyiv oblast. We note that this advisory is supported by a warning from Kyiv Region Military Administration on 12 April stating that de-occupied towns and settlements adjacent to Kyiv should not be re-settled by civilian populations due to high quantities of mines and unexploded ordnance.
- It is highly likely that ad-hoc checkpoints and stop-and-search checks by Ukrainian units will continue to take place on routes around and in Kyiv in the coming days and weeks, and those seeking to leave/enter Kyiv should treat such checks with due caution.
- Between Dnipro and Kyiv, we recommend the westbound H08 along the river until Kremenchuk and then the E50 through Oleksandriya and Uman to the E95 and the H01 to Kyiv. This route is currently the safest to Dnipro but takes approximately 90 minutes longer than alternative routes. We would advise that due to missile strikes earlier today on a railway station at Piatykhatky in Dnipropetrovsk oblast, the H08 northbound to Kremenchuk should be chosen over the E50 between Dnipro and Oleksandriya.
- Between Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia, there are two main road routes: the H08 and E105. Due to RU military targeting civilian and military aviation infrastructure with missile strikes, we believe there is substantial risk associated with all road routes into Zaporizhzhia, as the H08 is in close proximity to Shyroke Airfield just north-west of Zaporizhzhia, and the E105 passes through Zaporizhzhia International Airport and then Vilniansk Airfield. On 14 April, Russia has claimed that it struck Dnipro airfield in an air attack, in the vicinity of the H08 route, underlining extreme security risks in the region. As such, we assess that all approaches into Zaporizhzhia face elevated risk from air/missile strikes at present. Due to ongoing civilian evacuations from Zaporizhzhia, we assess that there will be substantial delays on both routes.
- On 17 and 18 April, no evacuation routes were opened from southeast Ukraine as no agreement was reached between Ukrainian and Russian officials. As such, security cannot be guaranteed on any evacuation routes from the Donbas or from the Zaporizhzhia region.
Today, 19 April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the next phase of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine has begun, aimed at the taking of the entirety of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. The announcement follows President Zelensky’s similar statement that the Russian offensive in the Donbas has now begun, and while widespread ground operations do not appear to have begun yet, momentum is clearly building. The launch of the second phase of the war raises the question of when Russian military operations will end, and the timeline will likely depend to a large extent upon how much Russia can take in the Donbas before the 9 May, Victory Day. The Russians have so far taken their time in consolidating forces in the east, with no major shifts in the frontline since the withdrawal from northern Ukraine, and as such the window for ground forces to achieve significant objections in time for Victory Day is closing. Nevertheless, Russian operations are clearing stepping up despite the poor weather forecasts, which will be to the advantage of the Ukrainian defenders. As such, all indicators point to a determination for Russian forces to make progress before 9 May. However, this could be aimed at providing the Kremlin with tangible results to present to the Russian population, before announcing a third phase of the war, which could protract into the coming months.
More immediately, looking ahead to Orthodox Easter on 24 April, false flag incidents targeting churches or religious institutions remain possible, particularly given the enduring tensions between the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the Ukrainian Church under the Moscow Patriarchate. Such attacks remain more likely if the Kremlin intends to continue military operations beyond 9 May, with Moscow possibly looking for further justification for a widening of the conflict for a domestic audience already facing high military casualties and a collapse in living standards.
- Over the last few days, Russian pressure in the Donbas has continued to increase, with artillery and air strikes reaching a significant tempo. This has been accompanied by ground operations attempting to widen the bridgehead south of Izyum, and along the eastern side of the Oskil river towards Lozove. Further east, Russian forces captured the town of Kreminna on 18 April, and fighting continued in adjacent Rubizhne, north of Severodonetsk. Further advances in this area will be slowed by the Donets river and substantial wooded areas, which will help the defence.
- In the south of Donbas, the main Russian and separatist attacks have continued against Popasna, and north of Donetsk city towards Adviivka. This area continues to be the most heavily entrenched, forming the pre-war front lines. West of the city, pressure continues on Mariinka but again this is slow going. Ukrainian forces continue to improve their defences throughout the area, particularly around Kramatorsk, Slovyansk, and Severodonetsk, although many smaller villages have also been fortified to slow and break up any Russian advance.
- Overall, Russia has brought up 11 further BTGs that have been reconstituted, giving it an assessed strength of 76 BTGs within Ukraine. The forces north of Izyum now comprise the 1st Guards Tank Army, 20th Combined Arms Army, and the 35th Combined Arms Army, with a total of around 25 BTGs.
- 12 BTGs were previously deployed against Mariupol, but we assess that at least four have now left the city and have been redeployed to the north. At least some of these are in Donetsk, but it is possible that others will be moved to the line south of Zaporizhzhia. Russia made minor gains here yesterday around Hulyaipole, which are the first in some time, potentially indicating increased focus on this area. However, the Ukrainian threat to Kherson is increasing given the reduction in the amphibious threat to Odesa, since this allows the potential movement of forces eastwards to Mykolaiv. This may necessitate Russian reinforcement of Kherson and the lower Dnieper, negating some of Russia’s advantage following the reduction of Mariupol.
- 22 more BTGs remain in Belarus. These are likely in poor repair, but maintaining them here serves several purposes – not least to pose a lasting threat to Kyiv. They also help shield continued air and missile operations in Belarus, prop up the Minsk regime, and act as a forward force to dissuade any NATO operations against Belarus; unlikely in practice, but prominent in Russian thinking.
- This total Russian strength of 98 Russian BTGs indicates a net loss of about 30 since the start of the conflict, including reinforcements already deployed. This tracks recent estimates of 20-30% reduction in combat effectiveness across the force. As previously discussed, many of these units will have been reconstituted in haste, and morale is varying widely. This will continue to hamper small-unit tactics and result in piecemeal commitment to battle, although Russia has undoubtedly worked hard to improve logistics, command and control, and electronic warfare use for this phase of the battle. The terrain will nonetheless continue to be challenging, with numerous obstacles in the northern Donbas, and rainy weather hindering off-road movement still. This all favours the defence.
- While we do not think that the main Russian ground movements have yet started, there is no doubt that momentum is building, and current operations are focused on securing advantageous positions for a wider series of larger attacks. These may take three forms. The first is a “strategic encirclement” of Ukrainian forces in Donbas, aimed at the Dnieper, which would be ambitious and difficult to achieve with current force levels. The next is an “operational encirclement”, west of Kramatorsk, which is potentially achievable – although it will open up Russian forces to persistent counterattacks, especially against supply lines. The last is a series of “tactical encirclements”, isolating Ukrainian forces in a larger version of the approach taken in Mariupol. Although less spectacular than sweeping advances, the main Russian objective is to destroy Ukrainian forces, and this does have the merit of forcing combat in several areas. However, Russia will continue to rely on air and artillery assets to do the majority of damage. The ground plan will largely therefore be to pin Ukrainian defenders in place to allow them to be targeted.
- The direction of any southern pincer remains hard to ascertain from current dispositions and may be subject to operational deception by the Russians, but the continued focus around Donetsk suggests that this is a likely jumping-off point.
- Outside of Donbas, Russia will continue to conduct strikes against transport hubs (particularly railways and air infrastructure), warehouses suspected of storing supplies, training locations, and government sites. These will mostly use naval- and air-launched cruise missiles and a variety of ballistic missiles. Rhetoric continues to be employed against NATO, as Moscow increasingly focuses on the scale and scope of support offered to Ukraine, although at present this is likely falling short of what Kyiv really needs – especially given tightening time frames. Artillery ammunition in particular is believed to be running low, with new NATO equipment being welcomed but requiring different calibres to other types in service with Ukraine. The best use of the donated vehicles and equipment will be to replace forces defending the west of the country, which can then move to the operational area, most likely being deployed around Kharkiv – where there is a growing chance to interdict Russian logistics north of Donbas. If nothing else this will draw off Russian reserves, weakening attacks elsewhere.
- The nationwide strategic missile and air threat will continue to pose risks to remaining business operations and NGOs engaged in humanitarian work. Similarly, although refugee flows are beginning to reverse, continued attacks on Kyiv reinforce the Mayor’s call for people to not yet return to the city. Aside from the certainty of further strikes on selected targets around the capital, there are significant hazards linked to mines, unexploded ordnance, and also disease given damage to infrastructure. With fuel, food, and water issues in the country, a mass return of people will add further strain and also dilute the effort required to support operations in the Donbas.
- In some areas, Russia may also escalate to wider use of heavy bombing, a move already seen against to Azovstal works in Mariupol. This will only take place in areas where air defence can be supressed, which is most likely east of the Dnieper, suggesting Kharkiv as a potential target. Unconfirmed reports are also alleging further CBRN use around Izyum, although at present we assess this reflects fears rather than actual deployment of these weapons. While this remains unlikely at this time, should Russian ground movements falter then further escalation of tactics certainly remains possible.
More widely, as Russia increasingly positions the former “special military operation” to its domestic audience as a war against NATO (making its setbacks less embarrassing), there remains room for strategic escalation. This could include wider mobilisation and increased nuclear posturing, alongside cyber disruption and agitation of western domestic unrest. Moscow is particularly focused on the French elections and will continue to seek to drive wedges into European unity, particularly around oil and gas reliance. Sanctions are already crippling Russia’s ability to support military operations in key areas, and so the regime will remain sensitive to further developments in this area. (Source: Sibylline)
19 Apr 22. Germany’s Olaf Scholz under fire at home for refusal to supply heavy weapons to Kyiv. Chancellor has ruled out shipping tanks and helicopters despite pleas from Ukraine. German chancellor Olaf Scholz is coming under growing pressure to allow exports of heavy weapons to Ukraine, with critics accusing him of dithering just as the government in Kyiv faces a major Russian offensive in Ukraine’s eastern border region of the Donbas. Scholz has refused to supply Ukraine with weapons such as tanks and armoured personnel carriers, despite increasingly strident demands from leading politicians, including some from within his own Social Democratic party as well as his Greens and liberal coalition allies. Green MP Anton Hofreiter, who visited Kyiv last week, said Germany must “finally deliver what Ukraine needs, and that is heavy weapons”. He lashed out at Scholz directly, saying “the problem is in the chancellery”. “What has to happen for the chancellor to finally give the green light to the supply of heavy weapons?” Johann Wadephul, deputy head of the opposition Christian Democrats’ parliamentary group, said in a tweet. His party has threatened to call for the issue to be debated in the Bundestag next week. The sense of urgency has increased as Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine gets under way. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that countries withholding the weapons and ammunition Kyiv needs “must know that the fate of this battle also depends on them”. Scholz’s position on arming Ukraine has evolved significantly since the start of Russia’s invasion. Initially he refused point blank to provide any arms, reiterating Berlin’s longstanding ban on the export of lethal weapons to conflict zones. Days after the outbreak of war he performed a dramatic volte-face, agreeing to provide Kyiv with hundreds of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Germany has also shipped machine guns, night-vision goggles, protective equipment and some vehicles to Ukraine. Scholz has also significantly ramped up the financial aid Germany is providing to Ukraine. A special fund to help crisis-hit countries invest in their military is being increased from €225mn to €2bn, with the bulk going to Ukraine, the government said on Friday. However the chancellor has so far resisted calls for Germany to give Ukraine more powerful weaponry including heavy artillery systems and attack helicopters as well as battle tanks and APCs. (Source: FT.com)
19 Apr 22. Russia plans to sue over frozen currency reserves, central bank says. Western sanctions have cut off Moscow from nearly half of its foreign exchange holdings. Russia plans to take legal steps to recover $300bn of its foreign currency reserves frozen by western governments in a bid to overturn one of the most painful measures imposed on Moscow in response to its invasion of Ukraine. The pledge to mount a legal challenge against the measure was announced by the head of Russia’s central bank without any details or timeframe. “Of course, this is an unprecedented freeze, so we will be preparing lawsuits, and we are preparing to apply them, as this is unprecedented on a global scale,” Elvira Nabiullina was quoted as saying by Interfax on Tuesday. Two days after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in late February, G7 countries and the European Commission announced they would impose sanctions on Russia’s central bank to block it from accessing its foreign exchange holdings. The central bank is unable to access nearly half of its $609.4bn in reserves to support the rouble, which fell sharply after the invasion. This has forced Russia to impose capital controls and instruct exporters to convert their foreign revenues into roubles. A central bank official declined to say which jurisdictions Russia was planning to sue in or what grounds it would claim for the legal action. Russia has also threatened legal action if the sanctions force it to default on its sovereign debt. It missed two payments on dollar-denominated debt when US authorities refused to let American banks process them. There have been few examples of successful efforts by individuals or governments to overturn western economic sanctions. The UK Supreme Court last year blocked a bid by Venezuela to release gold reserves frozen by the Bank of England, while the US has rejected a lawsuit by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to have personal sanctions against him lifted. (Source: FT.com)
19 Apr 22. AeroVironment Donates Over 100 Quantix Recon Unmanned Aircraft Systems to the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine and Territorial Forces.
- Donation is independent of other AeroVironment systems already being provided to Ukraine by the United States Government
- Donated Quantix Recon unmanned aircraft systems will ship this week with more to follow
- Operational training services for donated systems will also be provided at no cost
AeroVironment, Inc. (NASDAQ: AVAV) a global leader in intelligent, multi-domain robotic systems, today announced it will donate more than 100 Quantix™ Recon unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and operational training services to the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine and territorial forces amid the ongoing war against Russia. The donation was presented to the Ambassador and the Defence Attaché at the Embassy of Ukraine by AeroVironment chairman, president and chief executive officer Wahid Nawabi during a face-to-face meeting last week.
“As the Ukraine military’s fight to protect their homeland and defend their nation’s freedom against Russia’s invasion intensifies, their need for solutions that can offer force protection and force multiplication capabilities continues,” said Nawabi. “This donation will provide operators with a tool that can fly undetected by enemy forces and unaffected by radio frequency jammers to deliver accurate and rapid reconnaissance of remote, inaccessible areas of the dynamically changing battlefield.
“Using the actionable intelligence gathered by the Quantix Recon, operators can conduct quick mission planning and verification to help keep Ukrainian ground forces out of harm’s way. AeroVironment is honored to support the people of Ukraine,” Nawabi added.
AeroVironment’s Quantix Recon UAS is a lightweight, easily deployable, fully automated reconnaissance solution that provides on-demand actionable intelligence using high-resolution, georeferenced terrain, vegetation and infrastructure imagery. With its unique hybrid vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) design, Quantix Recon combines the VTOL advantages of a multirotor drone with the range, speed and efficiency of a fixed-wing unmanned aircraft. Featuring fully automated flight operation, the UAS can survey up to 1.6 square kilometers (0.6 square miles), or 20 linear kilometers (12.4 miles), per 45-minute single battery flight.
Delivery of the Quantix Recon UAS is independent of other AeroVironment tactical missile systems and UAS already being provided to Ukraine by the United States Government. The first half of the donated Quantix Recon UAS shipment is expected to be delivered this week with operational training commencing immediately.
19 Apr 22. Is the Russian invasion of Ukraine now reaching a climax? Moving the focus of the ‘war’ back to eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region suggests that Russia does now accept that conventional forces alone will not succeed in taking the whole of Ukraine. After Donbas, will this invasion stall? Probably it will on the surface but not below. That Russia has been surprised by the mauling that its young and clearly insufficiently trained armed forces units have so far received in the fifty odd days of this unprovoked attack on Ukraine can hardly be in doubt. Given information currently available and from various comments made by sources closer to this appalling situation than myself, it would be foolish to imagine that Russia will not succeed in achieving its revised aims in the Donbas region and which is largely Russian speaking. That Russian rocket attacks and heavy weapons have already destroyed so much of the Donbas region can hardly be ignored and neither can the fact that much of the region’s population has already fled. Russia can be expected to now blockade the Donbas region using all the weapons of destruction that it has at its disposal in order to claim victory over the region. But Ukraine is a far larger nation than the Donbas region alone and even if Russia succeeds in its mission it will then potentially face a protracted period of guerrilla warfare from small units of Ukraine armed forces and combatants that could continue for many years. Even if some kind of agreement can be reached between Russia and Ukraine, the latter should be prepared for a long period of Russian infiltration and a potential war of attrition. As I suggested at the start this unprovoked attack on Ukraine and whether or not Russia succeeds in its revised military strategy, we should better anticipate that, just as had occurred in Chechnya, Ukraine will continue to suffer a war of attrition and repression that could go on very many years.The West is right to do all that it can to support Ukraine but it is no use sending weapons that the already devastated Ukraine military cannot, because its personnel are not sufficiently trained and because too many of its airfields have been destroyed. Airpower remains a dominant factor in any war but this one will be won or lost on the ground. It is of course too early to be talking of the rebuilding of Ukraine and the part that the West may play in this but Ukraine’s shrunken population deserves to know that western nations will support them if and when they return. On that score my information is that there are now as many returning to Ukraine as those leaving. Will the loss of so many of its military personnel and much of its land equipment impact on Russian politics? I fear that despite the personal hurt felt by so many of its people at the death and destruction that couldn’t be hidden from their eyes despite every attempt by the Russian authorities to block sources of information, Putin will survive politically intact. Yes, lessons will have been learned but at this stage I can see no challenge to Putin’s authority. However, that western sanctions have undoubtedly hurt Russia will be harder for the Kremlin to ignore and this may yet be the biggest challenge and test of Vladimir Putin’s twenty years as Russian leader. For the West, whatever the outcome in Donbas or the rest of Ukraine, the lesson remains as one that we must never again fail to understand Russian history and psyche. (Source: Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.)